Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments

Plate II: Horn of Ulf


Above the horn: Cornu antiquum Icone hac duplo undique ad amasim majus, in Templo D. Petri, Ebor. Asservatur AD MDCCXVIII Ecclesia, uti creditur, sub initio Saeculi XI oblatum.
Caption A: Cornus hoc Ulphus in Occidentali Parte Deira Princeps Unacum omnibus terris et redditibus sub olum donavit amissum Velabreptum. 
Caption B: Henricus Ds Fairfax demum restituit dec & cap de novo ornavit An Dom 1675.
Bottom: Ex Collectione Samuele Gale Sumptibus Societatis Antiquiariae Lond.

Translation [EB]

Above the horn: An Ancient horn with this double pattern all around the larger edge, in the Church of St Peter, York, it was preserved, AD 1718, bestowed on the Church, as it is believed, at the beginning of the 11th century. 
Caption A: Ulf, ruler of the western region of Deira, gave [the Church] this horn—which for a time was lost or stolen—with all his lands and incomes.
Caption B: This was previously restored and decorated anew by Henry, Lord Fairfax in the year 1675. 
Bottom caption: From the collection of Samuel Gale, published by the Society of Antiquaries, London.


Engraved by George Vertue after [B M] in 17[18].  Though the engraving is undated, the Society of Antiquaries Minute Book records that it was ordered on 23 April 1718.


Early 11th-century elephant tusk carved by Islamic craftsmen in Salerno, with silver mounts added in the 17th century. 29” long and 15 ½” in circumference at the “great end” (Gale 1770: 182).

Provenance and Location: 

Held in the Treasury of York Minster.  Given to York Minster by Ulphus or Ulf Toraldsson--not to be confused wth Ulf Thorgilsson, the vassal of King Canute (d. 1026)--as a token or “conveyance” when he endowed the cathedral with substantial landholdings about 1036.  Plundered or sold during the Reformation, perhaps during the Civil War, when it was acquired by General Thomas Fairfax, whose son Henry restored it to the cathedral in 1675 (as recorded on the silver mounts transcribed in the engraving under A and B). 

Commentary [NH]

According to the Minute Book, “it was unanimously ordered” that this drawing “be printed” on 23 April 1718, evidently with the purpose of publishing it in the new print series (SAL Minutes I.94).  As noted in italic script at the bottom center of the image, the drawing belonged to Samuel Gale, at that time treasurer of the Society.  Vertue’s delicate engraving emphasizes the contrast between ivory and silver, the two materials composing the horn, while the pronounced shadow along the bottom ¼ of the horn highlights the carved work at the large end.  Countless parallel lines between the ribs of the horn emulate the grain of the ivory, while heavy contrast brings out the reflective surface of the silver mounts added to the horn when it was restored to the cathedral (to replace medieval mounts taken off when the horn was sold, according to Gale).   
Presumably following the original drawing by B.M., concerning whom nothing is recorded, Vertue leaves out the supports on which the horn would have had to be resting to face the viewer in this manner, along with any other contextual element.  The artifact or specimen floats instead in empty space, nearly filling the frame in the manner of other scientific and antiquarian illustrations.  Through its monumentality, this visual presentation helps to underwrite Gale’s description in his “Historical Dissertation” on the horn (published posthumously in 1770), which calls it a “venerable piece of antiquity.”  
Unlike the lamp depicted in Plate I, which the Antiquaries handed round at one of their early meetings, the horn itself never “came into their hands.”  The brief note in the minutes suggests that admiration for the drawing partly motivated their decision.  Gale’s dissertation provides some direct evidence concerning his motivation for commissioning (or buying) this drawing, but we should also take the fact that it circulated at a meeting, along with real artifacts, as circumstantial evidence. With the exception of Plate I, most of the objects engraved for vol. I were either not moveable or not in the possession of the Society; many, including the portrait of Richard II (Plate iv) and the baptismal font at St. James’s (Plate iii), were sacred objects from churches, and others were built works or ruins from farther afield.  Visual documentation expanded the scope of antiquarian research, and the distance between London and York further supported the rationale that the engraving would give access to many antiquaries who would not otherwise have it. 
Whereas the Antiquaries commissioned both the engraving for the next two plates and the drawings on which they were based, in this case an individual had already taken the trouble and expense to secure the drawing, and the caption on the image (Ex Collectioni Samueli Gale) indicates the value that antiquaries placed on collecting not only artifacts but drawings of artifacts.  In this respect, the print series was a logical outcome of more informal practices of antiquarian visual communication.
It is not immediately obvious what makes this horn a “venerable piece of antiquity” (Gale 1770: 168), nor is it obviously a “monument” at all, as Maria Grazia Lolla has observed (Lolla 1999: 28).  Gale’s use of this phrase provides a glimpse of the rhetoric used by the early antiquaries to bestow a dignity on British antiquities that would make them commensurable with classical remains.  Although admiration, as Lolla suggests, is certainly an important motive, Gale’s Dissertation is only one of several pieces of contemporary scholarship advancing quite substantial claims for this historical importance of these horns and the practice of “cornage” that they were held to illustrate.  The title of Samuel Pegge’s “Of the Horn, as a Charter or Instrument of Conveyance”—one of a cluster of seven articles on horns in the third volume of Archaeologia (1775)—conveys the essence of this argument. 
Gale’s “Dissertation,” one of several archived papers that Richard Gough assembled for inclusion in the first volume of the journal (1770), documents the historical functions that account for the elevation of such an apparently mundane piece of material culture as a drinking horn.  He cites numerous medieval manuscript sources on the Danish and Saxon practice of presenting a drinking horn to confirm or formalize a transfer of property.  Several of these describe Ulf’s investiture of York Minster with his lands (supposedly because of a conflict among his sons), including a medieval Latin manuscript poem discovered by Gale in the Cottonian library.  In parsing this and many other Latin texts, as well as in his many laudatory citations of earlier antiquaries including Camden and Dugdale, Gale uses the occasion of the horn to assert the validity of British antiquities as a learned field of study.  
The main justification, however, which may also explain the prominence of this print in Vetusta Monumenta, is that this symbolic practice, predating written charters, is an “ancient usage and custom” (1770: 177).  As Pegge points out in his essay, “this custom of conveying sine scriptis, and by means of these symbols” (1775: 4) lends the horns very significant status as historical and even legal evidence in cases where “there are no charters . . . to be consulted or referred to” (7).  In light of antiquarian scholarship, then, this print may be seen as an early document of the antiquaries’ abiding interest in ethnography and material culture, and their dedication to reconstructing the past not only from textual evidence. 
Gale does not neglect the aesthetic merits of the horn, however, and the aesthetics of the print deserve our attention as well.  Gale notes that the builders of the present (fourteenth-century) Minster at York “gratefully perpetuate[d]” Ulf’s eleventh-century “donation” by “causing the horn to be carved in bas-relief over the great arches of the nave and choir of the cathedral” (1770: 180).  He concludes with a visual description that provides a fitting gloss on Vertue’s engraving of the drawing from his collection: “As to its present condition, its beauty is not in the least impaired by age, it being of ivory: The carving is very durable, and is ornamented in the circumference at the larger extremity with the figures of two griffins, a lion, unicorn, dogs and trees interspersed, in bas-relief, and where the plates are fixed, with a foliage after the fashion of those times” (1770: 182).  Vertue, the antiquaries, and even the builders of York Minster must have been inspired to some extent by the sheer elegance of the workmanship on Ulf’s horn.  

Works Cited

Gale, Samuel  (d. 1754).  1770.   “An Historical Dissertation upon the Ancient Danish Horn, Kept in the Cathedral Church of York.” Archaeologia I: 228-43.
Lolla, Maria Grazia.  1999.  “Ceci n’est pas un monument: Vetusta Monumenta and Antiquarian Aesthetics.” In Producing the Past: Aspects of Antiquarian Culture and Practice, 1700-1850, edited by Martin Myrone and Lucy Peltz.  15-34 [esp. 25-28]. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Pegge, Samuel.  1775.  “Of the Horn as a Charter or Instrument of Conveyance.” Archaeologia III: 1-12.
Society of Antiquaries of London.  1718-.  Minutes of the Society’s Proceedings.

Further Reading

Davies, Robert.  1869.  “The Horn of Ulphus.” Archaeological Journal 26: 1-21.
Frazier Wood, Dustin M. 2017. "Charter Horns and the Antiquarian Imagination in Early Modern England." Studies in Medievalism 26: 67-86.
Milles, Jeremiah, et al.  1775.  Archaeologia III: Articles I-VII.
Watts, W. W.  1928.  “An English Horn with Fourteenth-Century Mounts.” Burlington Magazine 52: 276-78.  

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